Interview feature: Content Protection for On-Board Entertainment

Interview feature: Content protection for On-Board Entertainment
21.09.2017 Sara Pepic

The following interview is an extract from the latest issue of the “Infocus supplement: On-Board Entertainment: provision, protection, programming”, published by Inflight Magazine. If you’d like to receive the full version of the supplement, please contact us here.




In the latest “Infocus supplement”, we delve into the programming side and take a look at some of the varieties of IFE currently available. Gaining insight, not only into passenger tastes, but also into the legalities of licensing and performance rights for example, ensures that an airline’s curated library of audio/video content is fit for purpose. Without a coherent and valid digital rights management (DRM) policy, an airline faces a blackout on their in-flight entertainment. Alexander Preston (Editor, Inflight Magazine) discusses the DRM landscape and how to keep a watchful eye.


  • AP: What are digital rights management (DRM) and why is it important?

Axinom: In our context DRM is technology that aims at preventing piracy and controlling how content can be consumed. Without DRM technology pirating valuable digital goods is as easy as copying a file. DRM technology aims at controlling what consumers can do with content. At its technical core it involves encrypting content and vigorously keeping decryption keys under control. It is important for IFE operators, because content owners pay great attention to how well their content is protected. The strength of the DRM solution has direct impact on an airline’s ability to license premium content from content owners. Its importance is amplified by new bring your own device (BYOD) scenarios where consumers have full control over the playback device. This is a much bigger threat to content security than devices built into the seatback have been. A solid DRM solution is mandatory.


  • AP: How does Axinom help its customers understand DRM and its application?

Axinom: Axinom helps customers understand DRM and its application on many levels. For our general audiences, we regularly publish articles and white papers, we contribute to standardization efforts like MPEG-DASH, we are a member of the DASH Industry Forum, we speak at events and publish open source implementations and sample code. We provide our prospects with free evaluation environments of Axinom DRM. This comes with comprehensive documentation which enables developers to integrate Axinom DRM into their solutions.

With our customers, we perform on-site workshops during which all aspects of a secure content protection solution are discussed. This is always tailored to the specific needs of the individual project. Especially for on-board entertainment, there are many particularities that require consideration. For example, from a content security standpoint, systems that support playback on seatback screens are different than systems supporting BYOD scenarios. Those, in turn, are different to systems that use both screen types simultaneously by allowing passengers to remote control the in-seat screen with their own device and play content on either screen.

In all cases, with Axinom CMS, Axinom VIP, Axinom CDS, and Axinom DRM we offer a platform that allows for building efficient workflows and great user experiences while keeping content secure and protected during the entire lifecycle.

Finally, we are very used to helping our customers write white papers that describe the end-to-end solution from a content protection perspective. Most owners of premium content require detailed technical descriptions of all components that touch their content, before they decide about licensing their content to a particular system.


  • AP: Can you tell me more about Axinom’s DRM solution – what technologies does it support?

Axinom: There are only a handful of major DRM technologies out there that have earned trust from all major content owners. These include the DRM technologies from Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Axinom DRM is a multi-DRM service, which means it supports the major DRM technologies simultaneously. This is important, because DRM support is very scattered among client platforms. To provide an example: by default iPhones and iPads only support Apple’s FairPlay DRM technology, Google Chrome browsers and Android devices only support Google Widevine DRM, and guess what – Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer browsers exclusively support Microsoft PlayReady DRM.

Axinom DRM supports all of these technologies and therefore allows our customers to reach a very broad audience, no matter what devices they use, including in-seat screens and passengers’ personal devices.


  • AP: How does it protect premium content?

Axinom: Axinom DRM protects content by encrypting it and providing decryption keys only to authorized end users. The decryption keys come with rules that control what end users can do. For example, such a rule can enforce a certain time frame during which the end user can watch the content. After that the content automatically expires and cannot be watched anymore.

It’s important to not only look at the DRM piece. DRM is focused on protecting content from unauthorized access by end users. However, content must be protected during the entire lifecycle. Content protection during content preparation and transfer to aircraft is equally important. With Axinom CMS, Axinom CDS, and Axinom VIP we provide additional components that when used in combination provide the highest protection for premium content throughout its life. A public / private key infrastructure ensures that only authorized components get access to content. Our product portfolio helps customers automate as much of the content preparation pipeline as possible, minimizing the possibility for human error.

Back to DRM: At the core of any DRM technology there is encryption. Encryption protects well against someone eavesdropping on the (WiFi) network and getting their hands on encrypted content. But without the decryption key it’s close to impossible to access the content. The hardest part for any DRM technology is protecting decryption keys on an end user’s device. This is the number one priority. To achieve this, decryption keys are provided only in encrypted form and only to trusted DRM components on the device. Obviously the DRM player on the device is such a component. At some point it uses the decryption key, decrypts and displays the content. Think of an attacker who is a skilled programmer. Performing a so-called re-engineering attack the attacker analyses the playback software and tries to identify the code that performs these operations to get a hold of the decryption key. If successful the content is compromised. To fight this kind of attack the DRM components on devices are “hardened”. This is a complicated and expensive process and there is not enough space here to provide all the details, but the result is important: the DRM player components on the device are a lot harder to analyze and re-engineer. Even very skilled attackers are defeated by this measure and attempts to extract decryption keys are rendered unsuccessful. Additionally, newer devices even go a step further by moving key handling and decryption components into hardware. This way it is even harder for an attacker to get access to content in its unencrypted form.


  • AP: Does it support offline DRM?

Axinom: Absolutely. Axinom DRM enables on-board entertainment scenarios not just in planes, but also in trains, buses, and ships. It was the first multi-DRM product that can operate in a disconnected fashion enabling premium video on board of vessels. Axinom DRM license servers are installed on-board of vessels and can operate normally even when completely disconnected. In such a scenario the client device connects to an on-board media server that streams content and requests respective DRM licenses from the on-board Axinom DRM server.

In addition, Axinom DRM is capable of issuing persistent DRM licenses. This is useful when consumers are allowed to download content to their device. Think of a use case where a passenger starts watching a movie during flight. The entire movie is downloaded to the device. The plane lands before the passenger finished watching the movie. The persistent DRM license on the device allows the passenger to later start the app again and finish watching, even when her device is not connected to the internet.


  • AP: How does Axinom support providers in the face of BYOD and the desire of passengers to carry their IFE content off the aircraft so they can continue watching beyond the flight/airport?

Axinom: Technically, Axinom supports all of this today. Axinom DRM is capable of providing persistent DRM licenses. This means that content decryption keys can be stored on the device in a controlled and secure manner, while making sure content usage rules stay enforced. For example, by using this technology an airline could allow their passengers to download a movie during flight and watch it for another 48 hours after leaving the plane. An alternative approach could involve an on-ground portal with identical content. This way an airline could allow passengers to access the on-board content via an on-ground portal during a defined timeframe before and after the flight. Technically, all of this is rather simple to implement with Axinom DRM. However, the bigger obstacle probably are the content licensing agreements with content owners. Such agreements are often structured around different markets, like home entertainment / non-theatrical. Inside content owners’ organizations these markets are often handled by different teams. The whole IFE business for years has been centred around acquiring licenses for display during flight. Striking a deal that involves a mixture of different markets is necessary for the described use case. That’s the tricky part here.

BYOD scenarios offer many more possibilities to improve the user experience. For example by pairing the passenger’s device with the seatback screen. This way an airline can tailor the seatback experience to the individual passengers by using the app as a synchronization mechanism. Possibilities are almost limitless – from displaying the passenger’s preferred language to showing a list of favorite shows to knowing which movie she did not finish watching on her last flight and continue exactly where she left off.


  • AP: Any other comment?

Axinom: Axinom’s products are able to complement existing solutions as well as serve as a basis for creating an entertainment platform from scratch: Axinom CMS (Content Management System), Axinom DRM (Digital Rights Management), Axinom VIP (Video Ingest and Processing), Axinom CDS (Content Delivery System), and Axinom Player SDKs all come with comprehensive developer documentation and an open API which makes integration with existing systems easy.

Axinom DRM´s infrastructure was among the first modern multi-DRM deployments in the world and the knowledge gained in its development ensured that a full-stack view of premium content solutions was always in sight during its technical evolution.

Axinom is not only operating in the aerospace industry, but has a strong footprint in media and entertainment. Since 2009 Axinom is providing professional DRM services for leading brands. Service level agreements with availability guarantees of 99,99% uptime and 24/7/365 support are our daily business. Among our customers one can find many well-known names like the BBC, Sky, and Etisalat.


Especially on aircraft strict limitations concerning the on-board servers apply. Moving parts, like fans and traditional hard disks, are generally problematic. Moreover, weight is always a top priority. As a consequence one usually encounters lightweight, passively cooled systems with power-saving processors on aircraft which are far less powerful than their data center counterparts. Due to this Axinom DRM is heavily optimized for being resource-friendly. The memory footprint, storage requirements, and processor consumption are minimized. It is perfectly suited to run on a low-performance server and still meet performance goals to allow the user experience excite passengers.



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